“[We] made several trial diggings […],
but we found nothing worth carrying away.”
E. A. Wallis Budge, noted British Egyptologist and philologist
Sometimes, it takes 50 years to understand what happened when you were 15.
The wind has completely died down today in Gouna, Egypt. Because it is Sunday morning, many people have already left in their cars. They’ll be in Cairo by afternoon.
Here, it is now quiet.
All you hear is the randy howling of cats, and the occasional passing of a micro bus. As always, Sandy remains close by, silently, and does not engage or participate in whatever the other, larger cats are doing — which is mostly foraging for food, and coupling.
The lack of wind and people lends an almost classical feel to the place. You sense history writ in the large having unfolded. You sense an inflection point in history about to unfold. You sense in the stillness of the moment the present as an unalterable is-ness.
The French word ouvrage has multiple meanings. It can mean opening something, or, rather, the act of revealing; but it can also signify a literary or academic text, a book, a conceit, a fragment or shard of memory.
If you were here in Gouna simply to regain your health and get away from American carnage, that would be fine. That would be sufficient.
But it isn’t for me.
Behind every day that I am here in the desert by the sea, I think to myself where is the opening? Where is the cut in the mountains that I shall take to explore the remote territory in a deeper way? Or is this nothing more than the delusional madness of the anchorite? Is that cupboard empty, with at best a dusty stray cat story yellowing on some bottom unseen shelf?
If Saussure and philolology are your thing — as they are mine — there can be no greater adventure than finding and reading an affordable copy of P. M. Frazer’s Ptolemaic Alexandria.
I shall look for it while in Egypt; first at the Alexandria library in Gouna, and then perhaps at the real one in Alexandria itself.
It is necessary to find this book, given that much of what I am thinking about — as I go about my normal activities, the duties as it were, of cooking, shaving, walking, watching TV, or even reading about Nubia — involves Alexandria and the deserts of sin.
I must go to Alex before I leave.
I must find this book.
The bucket list keeps growing; Marsa Alam; the nearby islands in the Red Sea; the visit to the Bedouin in the Eastern Desert wadis and spending a night or two under the stars in the mountains. What about the danger of snakes that are no doubt there? I am an immigrant. Am I one now, too, a snake, as some American fools claim? Is there a secret sharer in this house?
I sit in the stillness and wonder how many of these superficial things I’ll be able to do before leaving. Time is growing short, even though such accomplishments are largely meaningless — the blue flies will eat out your eyes no matter what. It’s becoming obvious that I must return in October. Should the new place I am going to in a few weeks please me with it’s attractive proximity to the Red Sea, I may rent it for 9 months and finish writing my tortured imaginary novel there.
I watch — briefly — CNN and apprise myself of the latest rantings of the lunatic currently in the White House.
But then I switch it off.
I listen, again, briefly, to Jagger on YouTube singing “I’ll never leave your pizza burning” on Beast of Burden, and think of all the cunctative mulepacks that I perhaps mistakenly must rely upon in my search to discover the ouvrage that will — at last! finally! — define and validate the real point of my coming to Gouna, now long after I have ceased to be a handsome young man with the world before him like a bed of willing oysters, and with hours, no, decades, to spare, dawdling with complicated young women in New York City dive bars, engaging in the usual clever banter and chit chat, pissing out the future on urinal cakes in a porcelain prison, as if the moment of ultimate reckoning would never be at hand.
I listen to the silence of the desert.
What is it trying to tell me?